Sunday, March 07, 2010

Directing An Award Breakthrough

The following was written for the Director's Chair # 6 over at The Large Association of Movie Blogs. Kathryn Bigelow and Jane Campion are selected as this month's featured directors.

In a few mere hours history may, and most likely will, take place at this year's Academy Awards. Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, is poised to become the first woman ever to win the award for Best Director. While the award is deserved, the film is good though vastly overhyped, you cannot help but wonder why has it taken so long for the gender barrier to be broken? Also, is Bigelow really breaking through? Or merely being rewarded for making a film that appeals to the "old boys club" branch of the Academy?

The one comment that I have noticed a lot Oscar pundits say in favour of Kathryn Bigelow is that she, unlike other female directors, does not make the typical female driven films. Her films, with the exception of The Weight of Water, and the vastly underrated, Blue Steel (hey, it's a guilty pleasure flick), are often male driven adrenaline flicks. Whether it is the straight action of Point Break, the horror chills of Near Dark, or a science fiction thriller like Strange Days, Bigelow knows how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Yet to imply that Bigelow should win because she makes movies that predominately appeal to men is insulting to both Kathryn Bigelow and female directors in general.

This line of thought offers the subtle implication that Bigelow is not one of those "feminist" directors, like Jane Campion, simply because she doe not cater to the female gender. Which also assumes that women do not like genre flicks as much as men do. Worst of all, it makes female directors, who focus on female driven stories, seem somehow less deserving of the Best Director award. I believe you would be a fool to assume that Kathryn Bigelow is not on the same level of Jane Campion when it comes to championing female equality in film. To me Bigelow is the embodiment of the modern feminist movement in cinema. If you really think about it, the core of feminism has always been about gender equality. Kathryn Bigelow exemplifies this with her work behind the camera. She makes genre films as good as any male director and, best of all, you never feel the need to question the gender influence when watching her films. You approach Bigelow's work the same way you would approach any other action director's work.

Unlike Bigelow who thrives who behind the scenes, Jane Campion is one of the directors that believes in putting women in the forefront of the camera. Her films, which include Holy Smoke, The Piano, In the Cut, Portrait of a Lady, etc, often focus on strong female characters coming to terms with love, sexuality, and independence. Campion is often associated with period pieces though she has dabble in the horror/thriller genre with In the Cut. Although being nominated for the Best Director award in 1994 for her film The Piano, Campion, like other female nominated directors, had to settle for the Best Original Screenplay award. To be fair, Jane Campion was going up against Steven Spielberg's Schindler's director stood a chance against that film. Regardless, is the fact that Campion specializes in female driven stories the reason she, or other female directors, have not won in the directing category? Do female directors need to start making more action films like Bigelow to get Academy Award notice?

I may be naive but I would like to believe that it will not resort to this. The merit of Kathryn Bigelow's work on The Hurt Locker speaks for itself. The Best Director race this year is one of the few cases where everyone nominated is equally deserving of the award. An argument can be made for why each one, yes, even James Cameron, should win the award. The Academy may have finally reached the beginning of a new era; soon we will no longer need to discuss gender or race at the awards. I hope this new age will be one where female directed works, featuring both male and female driven stories, are viewed as equals in the eyes of the Academy, and pundits alike, regardless of genre. It will not happen overnight mind you, as Best Director is one of the few areas where a couple more walls still need to be broken down, but the first positive steps towards change will hopefully happen tonight.


  1. Great piece!
    I also felt naive thinking that she was winning out of merit alone but we can't deny that it did help that she broke several patterns: she directed like a "man", she made a great thriller and she made the best movie about the Iraq conflict (perhaps the only one that's gotten any real respect, see how "Stop Loss" fared and it also was directed by a woman).
    Now I would've given her, Sofia and Jane the vote. But Bigelow's win came at an appropriate time for the Academy to do so. Sophia and Jane stood no chance against Steven and Peter, but Bigelow seemed to be the only one who could win this.
    James had won before, QT isn't as embraced as we think and the other two are "rookies", so truly it was either now or never for them.
    I love that she won and I love the film but it still had a lot to do with chauvinist politics at their most evident.

  2. @ Jose- I have to agree that it was the best film about the Iraq war to date. The Messenger would be a close second in my books.

    I wish the Oscars had not become so political over the last fifteen years. It is no longer about awarding the best, but awarding who has waited the longest, who said the right things in interviews, etc. I think the studio campaigns of the 90’s really killed the Academy Awards in general. Still, I am glad that Bigelow won, it was deserved.


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